Last week the financial advisor hired by Oak Park and River Forest High School made a long-awaited presentation on the range of options District 200 might take to finance its ambitious and overdue $100 million Project 2.
This is the effort that will rebuild the indoor physical education/athletics facilities at the south end of the Scoville Avenue campus. It will also offer some upgrades to the arts and theater facilities adjacent to the PE area.
It is notable to us that four of the five options presented by the Raymond James Financial consultant would include a tax referendum to seek taxpayer approval to fund a portion of the work. We’d suggest the school board immediately jettison the one proposal that evades going to voters for their OK.
A project this big needs voter buy-in. It’s only right. And it is the necessary opportunity for this vital institution to make its strong case for this once in a century investment.
It is also the moment for the school to move past three genuine obstacles.
First, there is the lingering and rightful distrust OPRF created within the community years back with its massive overtaxing scheme. That’s where the infamous $120 million cash reserve came from. It has taken the past decade, some contrition, and some smarts on the school board to slowly pay down that reserve.
In the months just ahead, the school board needs to also set a new cash-on-hand threshold that determines how much of a reserve is prudent. We’d suggest 35% and not the 50% some have suggested.
That will allow a greater portion of the still mammoth reserve to be spent on Project 2.
Because a referendum cannot get on the ballot until spring of 2024 it also allows the school district time to both refine its plan but more importantly to decouple longtime critics (who have their points to make) from those passionate about equity processes who are convinced the school has not considered this large investment in PE and athletics through a serious equity lens.
These concerns are genuine and need to be addressed.
Finally, going to referendum — and winning, as we believe is possible — will move the school past its last failed referendum. Always recall that vote went against the high school by two handfuls of votes. It was a caution, not a repudiation.
On all fronts time to move ahead.